It's All Yours (PG-13)

My co-worker Ariel Anderson stopped by my office and told me about the fundraiser for the local cancer drive she was helping out with. Ariel worked in payroll down the hall and although she was a couple of years younger than me, single and available according to the office scuttlebutt, I tried not to get involved with people I worked with.

"Somebody donated a Bermuda Cruise for two as the grand prize," she said with excitement.

"Why would I want to go to Bermuda?" I asked with a frown as I glanced up from my work on my desk.

"Why wouldn't you want to go to Bermuda!?" She laughed as she brushed back her shoulder length curly blonde hair while standing in the doorway with her pad of raffle tickets in her hand.

"Who would I go with?" I mumbled, more to myself than her, feeling sorry for myself thinking about my last long term relationship that had gone on the rocks.

"Tell you what," she giggled playfully. "You win the drawing and I'll go with you!"

Then she blushed having realized what she had implied and I smirked, intrigued her fun proposal and embarrassed reaction. "Well," I said, quite seriously, pulling my wallet from my pocket. "In that case…"

Ariel laughed in an effort to mask her awkwardness as she stepped into the room and pulled a ticket off the pad which I filled out, handing her the ten dollar bill along with the "winning" ticket.

"Great," she said with professionalism. "The organization will contact you if you win," she explained.

"I'll be holding my breath," I said sarcastically.

"Oh, Gil, you never know!" Ariel said with encouragement before leaving the office.

"Yeah, right," I mumbled as I went back to work.

I forgot about the raffle and the cruise but every time I saw Ariel around the office I couldn't help but fantasy about what it might be like to spend a week at sea with her! She was a nice person and a dedicated worker, a team player who went out of her way to make sure the job was done, often staying late to help co-workers or employees with pay problems. She was also the type to remember people's birthdays and other special events, bringing in cards for co-workers to sign when somebody's mother died, arranging parties, and chairing the holiday party committee.

I didn't know Ariel very well but I liked her. She was attractive and funny, friendly and personable, and she was always poking her head in my door to say hi, or to tell me some joke she heard, or talk about a current event.

Months had gone by since I signed up for the raffle but I wasn't thinking about that during a particularly rough day at work. A management meeting hadn't gone well, one of my staffers had screwed up a big project, and I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by my boss who was riding my ass about some of our department problems.

The phone rang and I had to catch my breath and react professionally when I answered so I wouldn't sound snappy or rude.

"Gil Monroe, how can I help you?" I asked politely.

"Mr. Monroe," an unfamiliar voice replied.

"Yes, who's this please?" I asked respectfully.

"Sir, my name is Megan Matthews and I represent the Blue County Cancer Society," the woman replied.

I made no connection to the raffle I had entered months ago.

"And how may I help you?" I asked, thinking she was going to make some sort of pitch to involve our company in one of their charity events.

"I'm just calling to congratulate you, Sir," she said pleasantly.

"For what?" I asked with confusion.

"You are our grand prize winner in our Bermuda Cruise raffle!" She announced happily.

Finally, I got it. I just couldn't believe it!

"You're kidding," I remarked, laughing at the news.

"No, Sir!" She said cheerfully. "You're our lucky winner!"

I spent the next ten minutes talking with Ms. Matthews about the particulars of the trip as she took down my information and finalized the plans. When I was done with the call, I stood and went to the office window, sucking in a deep breath. I couldn't believe I had actually won!

And then I thought about Ariel Anderson. Would she back out of her pledge when she found out I won? Did she really mean it when she said she'd go with me? Did I really want to spend a week at sea with a woman I barely knew?

I rubbed my chin for a moment and then returned to my desk, calling Ariel on the inter-office phone intercom system.

"This is Ariel," she said when she answered the call. Her voice was soft and even sexy.

"Ariel, this is Gil Monroe." Suddenly, I felt nervous. "Could you come to my office for a moment?"

"Sure, I'll be right there," she replied and the line went dead.

A few moments later, Ariel stuck her head into the door of my office. "You wanted to see me?"

"Come in," I told her.

She stepped into the office.

"Close the door," I requested and I saw the smile on her face disappear as she nervously did what I asked.

"Have a seat," I said, gesturing to the chair in front of my desk.

"Okay," Ariel said apprehensively, moving across the room and slipping into the chair, her hands nervously playing with the edge of the skirt she was wearing.

"Do you…"

"Am I being laid off?" Ariel blurted out.

"What?" I asked with confusion.

"I heard with some of the new automation they didn't need all of us anymore," Ariel said. "Am I being fired?"

"No, of course not," I said. "Relax, this isn't about that."

"Oh, thank God," Ariel said with obvious relief. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost this job. It's my whole life."

I rubbed my forehead for a moment and then glanced at her. "How much vacation time do you have?" I asked.

"A couple of weeks," she bragged but then she started looking nervous again. "Why? Are we having a mandatory stand down or something? Oh God, I knew things were going to go bad…."

"No, no, it's nothing like that either," I told her with a laugh. "This isn't even work related, actually."

"It's not?" Ariel asked with surprise, sitting back in her chair and staring at me with confusion. "Then what's it about?"

"I won," I announced.

"Huh?" She obviously had no idea what I was talking about.

"Do you remember that raffle ticket you suckered me in on for the Bermuda Cruise?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah, that," Ariel replied, obviously having forgotten all about it too.

"Well, I won," I grinned.

"What?" She asked with amazement. "You really won?"

"Yep," I smiled happily.

It wasn't every day that I won something like this and I couldn't help but feel giddy about it.

"Well, gee, Gil, congratulations," Ariel said with a relieved smile. "I'm really happy for you!"

I peered at her, slightly surprised and even a little amused. "Don't you remember what you said to me that day?"

She looked blankly at me for a moment and then suddenly her hand went to her mouth. "Oh My God!" She said with disbelief. "You wouldn't really take me, would you!?"

"Would you go with me?" I asked, suddenly feeling a little awkward and unsure.

"On a Bermuda Cruise!?" She looked panicked for some reason.

"That's what I won," I reminded her.

"I never go anywhere," she sighed sadly. "A cruise would be like a dream come true."

"Well, now you have your chance," I said with a grin.

She looked at me as the reality of the situation suddenly set in. "Oh, Gil," she sighed heavily.

"What's wrong?" I asked with surprise.

"I really can't go," she announced suddenly.

"Why not?"

"I don't know," she mumbled. "We really don't know each other and…"

"Ariel, you said it yourself," I reminded her. "A Bermuda Cruise!"

"I know, but…" she said nervously.

"What?" I asked.

She looked at me while chewing on her bottom lip. "Gil, I've been working here long enough to know you're a good guy," she said.

"That's a relief," I smiled.

"I shouldn't have a problem going with you, really."

"Well, okay then," I said. "So I guess we're going on a Bermuda Cruise!"

"Maybe I'd better not," Ariel replied.

I folded my hands on the top of the desk. "What's wrong, Ariel?"

"It's just that…" She looked away, her eyes drifting out the window. "I'm not very good at this sort of stuff."

"Listen," I said gently. "This is all on the up and up. No expectations. No assumptions. It will be totally platonic. I respect you and would never do anything to ruin this for you. We'll just go and have a good time, okay?"

"Isn't there somebody else you'd rather go with?" She asked.

"No," I answered truthfully. "I'd be honored to go with you."

I thought she was going to start to cry as she stood from her chair. "You really are a nice guy, Gil," she said before leaving the office.

###

Our departure date was a month away so we had plenty of time to prepare for the trip, including putting in our individual time off requests. We decided not to tell anybody of our plans to avoid the rumor mill and potential for gossip that would surely engulf the office about some stupid office romance or something. This was just a platonic pleasure cruise between two co-workers, nothing more we told each other.

Nothing really changed between Ariel and me. She'd stop by my office to update me on plans and arrangements but we didn't really talk about anything personal. I wondered if we should go out a few times before the cruise to try to get to know each other a little better I figured that it was probably better just to pretend that everything was fine until we actually got on the boat. Hillsboro was a pretty small town and somebody might see us out together and suspect something was up if we spent time together before the cruise.

We were scheduled to leave Boston on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas at Eight o'clock on Monday morning so I was at Ariel's house at 5:30 a.m. to allow us plenty of time for the ride to Boston. She lived in an attractive bungalow on Nancy Street and she was waiting at the door when I arrived. I did a double take when I saw that she had three large suitcases waiting by the door.

"Are you sure this is enough?" I asked sarcastically.

"I hope so!" Ariel replied sincerely, not getting my tone.

"I stuffed everything I'm bringing in my one old Navy seabag," I told her as I started picking up her bags.

"Oh, you know how women can be, Gil," she replied, holding the door open for me. "Can you believe any of this, Gil?" Ariel asked with wonderment as I carried her bags to the car. "We're going on cruise to Bermuda!"

We stopped at the Dunkin Donuts on our way out of Hillsboro and then hit the road, making good time as the sun rose in the east. Ariel started talking about work until I reminded her that we were on vacation and that meant we didn't have to worry about or think about work.

"Oh, yeah!" She laughed but then she paused and frowned with awkwardness. "So, what do we talk about?"

I laughed and turned on the radio. "We don't have to talk about anything if you don't want to," I said.

But we talked a little. Mostly idle chit chat about the traffic and some of the scenery we passed and a field trip Ariel remembered taking to the Boston Museum of Science in junior high.

"That was about the only time I got out of town," she said.

Through the conversation I learned that Ariel had gone to St. Anne's CatholicSchool, graduating three years after I did from Hillsboro High. I left for the Navy and she took a few classes at BlueCountyCommunity College. Ariel began working at our company in our mail room, eventually working her way up to the payroll department. I wasn't in her direct line of supervision but because I was a middle manager I interacted with the payroll department regularly and that's why we knew each other.
I had been to Boston several times for Red Sox and Bruins games so I was familiar enough with the city to get around. I had map quested directions to the Black Falcon Terminal in the South Boston Waterfront District but we still had some trouble getting to the docks. We could see it in the distance along the water but finding the right road to get there was a little more difficult.

Ariel was taken by the sight of the city and was full of comments as we drove through the Boston streets, not really concerned about whether we were lost or not.

"Is the school field trip the only time you've been here?" I asked.

"Yeah," Ariel admitted sheepishly. "I don't get out BlueCounty much."

"Boston is a fun and historic city," I let her know.

We finally made it to the terminal after a couple of U-turns and road reversals. I dropped Ariel off with the luggage in the designated area and then took the car to the cruise parking garage across from the BostonDesignCenter about a mile away. I hoped Ariel would be okay waiting for me as I took the shuttle back to the terminal with other husbands, fathers, and boyfriends.

Ariel was anxious when she saw me get off the shuttle.

"I can't believe we're actually doing this!" She stated as she stared at the large cruise ship docked in front of us.

"It does seem pretty unbelievable," I agreed as I took in the sight of the huge ship.

She looked at me with uncertainty. "Are you sure, Gil?" She asked nervously.

"It will be okay," I assured her. "Please stop worrying and just try to have a good time."

"I'm basically a shy person," she admitted. "I never do anything like this."

"Everybody's shy," I assured her. "This is a little weird for me too, you know."

"It is?" She asked with surprise.

"Sure," I said. "But I'm willing to give it a try if you are."

"Okay," she agreed after a moment of thought. "Suzanne from work says I need to take chances sometimes."

It only took about fifteen minutes to board the ship. We had to pass though a customs check and show our IDs. We had to have our travel documents and once we passed through that station we got our SeaPass cards to board the ship which was our room key and our means to purchase everything we bought while onboard. A security officer took our pictures which would not be on our card but would be in the computer system when a staff member scanned it when we made purchases.

We passed through more security and then we were told that we had been assigned to Cabin 3455 and it wasn't too difficult finding our berthing. I had some ship sense because of my Navy experience and the passageways were clearly marked with maps, arrows, and directions.

The room was surprisingly small when I opened the door to drop our luggage off and Ariel seemed momentarily taken aback.

"I've never slept in a closet before," she joked as she stepped into the room and glanced around.

We had been told it was what was called an Oceanview cabin which was slightly larger then the lower grade and it included a thick window that did not open. The amenities included twin beds, a television mounted on the wall, a telephone on a small table between the beds, service menus with ship details such as room service selections, phone numbers and basic port information, complimentary robes, and a basic selection of toiletries including sample shampoos and soaps.

The bathroom ("head") featured palatial marble and measured about six feet by eight feet, yielding approximately forty-six square feet of space with a separate glass-door shower stall and a full-size tub long enough to actually recline in. There were creamy colors and buttery marble countertops, lots of open glass shelves to store stuff on, and jewel-like lights. The metal toilet extended from the wall and was a tight squeeze between the sink and shower.

"This is a little quaint," Ariel remarked when she poked her head into the head to take a look. "I need to test it out," she added, giving me a look.

I waited for her in the small cabin realizing that this was going to be our living arrangements for the next six days.

When Ariel was done with her pit stop, we decided to explore the ship. The Grandeur had been launched in 1996 and was one of Royal Caribbean's older vessels but its sleek public spaces looked sharp. We saw The Centrum (a sweeping six-story atrium), the glitzy Palladium Theater, and a grand Art Deco-inspired dining room. Some of the spaces felt quite plush, like the conference space for business meetings, Cafe Latte-tudes, and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. I noticed that there were photographers at strategic locations to take our pictures if we so desired.

When we were done with our little tour to get familiar with the lay out of the ship, we headed to a welcome aboard brunch in the Windjammer Café which was the ship's casual dining restaurant.

"You okay?" I asked Ariel as we waited in line for the buffet.

"This is great!" Ariel announced bravely as we made our way down a buffet line of every breakfast food imaginable.

We found a table in the corner and tried to accept the fact that we were on a cruise.

"There must have been somebody else you could have taken on such a romantic cruise, Gil," Ariel said with a sigh.

"Don't worry about me," I told her. "I'm happy being here with you."

"Yeah, right," she frowned, giving me a look. "You don't have to placate me."

"I'm not," I said defensively. "Look, I'm flattered that you were willing to do this," I said. "I'm glad we're getting a chance to get to know each other a little better. Let's just not worry about anything and enjoy this, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed, forcing a smile.

I was surprised at how shy Ariel Anderson really was.

After brunch, we were tasked with participating in the ship's emergency drill. After the disaster of the ship running aground and flipping in Italy, I was happy to listen to this presentation as required by international law regardless of how many times somebody cruised. We put on a life jacket and proceed to our muster station which was the meeting spot on deck in case of emergency. Ariel looked cute in her life jacket as we stood on deck and listened to announcements from the Captain but it didn't take long and most people took the drill in stride.

As we prepared to set sail, a lot of passengers including us stood on deck and watched as the ship pulled away from the wharf. Boston eventually got smaller behind us as the cruise ship headed out of the harbor and out to sea.

"It's almost like being in the Navy again," I told Ariel.

"Can I be your first mate?" Ariel teased as we watched the sea from the side of the ship.

"Of course, being on the water is about the only similarity to this and a Navy aircraft carrier!" I observed.

Naturally, I told Ariel plenty of Navy 'sea stories' during our cruise and she never got tired of hearing them.

It was hard to be bored on the cruise ship because there was always some event or activity going on, from belly flopping contests in the pool to rock wall climbing competitions. We even saw a men's adorable legs contest!

"Aren't you going to be a contestant!?" Ariel teased and I was glad to see that she was starting to loosen up some.

There was also a standing-room-only cooking demo with the executive chef at the Centrum and the pool deck area was throbbing to music. In the Palladium Theater, there were high-energy Royal Caribbean singers and dancers.

We experienced our first meeting with Pete, a videographer for the cruise line filming footage of the cruise all week for a "Cruise in Review" DVD which guests could purchase at the end of the vacation to remember the fun activities. There was a dance party going on by the pool with some instructors teaching people line dancing with Pete videotaping folks chilling in the pool or catching some rays.

Ariel wanted to play the cash prize Bingo so I purchased six chances on five games each. The first four games were for cash but in the last game, one player would upgrade to a suite room for the rest of the cruise.

"Oh, I never win anything," I said as we prepared for the game.

Ariel laughed hysterically. "We're here because you won something, silly!" She reminded me.

Unfortunately for us, we didn't win cash or a suite upgrade by the time we were done playing.

"Don't fret," Ariel laughed. "There's more Bingo all week!"

I noticed the large number of hand sanitation stations throughout the ship in an attempt to ward off infections and illnesses. There were also plenty of ship cruise members with sanitation bottles in their hands willing to squirt your hands at a moment's notice.

The biggest thing to do on the ship, I soon discovered, was eat. I lost count of the number of restaurants, cafes, night clubs, ice cream shops, and other delights I saw throughout the ship. The formal Great Gatsby dining room with its fourteen selections, including seafood of course looked to be the best place to dine!

Most of the passengers were couples. Young newlyweds and middle age married couples on their second honeymoon or getaway vacations, older couples enjoying retirement, and unmarried couples on romantic adventures. It was easy to feel like Ariel and I were a couple too since we were hanging together and we didn't bother explaining that we were platonic friends and co-workers taking advantage of a free cruise won in a fundraising raffle. I didn't care because I was actually enjoying pretending that Ariel was my lover.

We finally made it back to our cabin to change and freshen up for dinner. I tried to give Ariel her space, taking a walk while she showered and dressed and I stayed in the bathroom changing when it was my turn.

We headed for dinner where the wait staff stood at the door to greet us (with the sanitation spray bottles!). The service was second to none because the waiters established rapport with everyone and that made for a comfortable and friendly dining experience. There were even assistant waiters handling tasks such as pouring water glasses and dishing out the bread. There was a four course meal, including starter, salad, entrée, and dessert and the ship photographer took pictures.

We shared our table with a middle aged couple from PortlandMaine and a younger married couple from Newport, Rhode Island which made for easy and interesting conversation, although Ariel and I found ourselves faking our way through our story.

"We're going to have to keep our stories straight and consistent," I advised Ariel when we left the dining room after the meal.

We stood on the deck coming up with our cover story. We met at work (true) and we had been together as a couple for a couple of years (not true). We decided to take the cruise as a present to ourselves after two years of romantic bliss (nice fantasy).

We went to a comedy show featuring a hilarious comedienne who did a musical comedy show that had the audience rolling in laughter. I thought Ariel was going to fall out of her chair she was laughing so hard. The comedienne's jokes were appropriate to the audience and she had great interaction with the crowd.

When the show was over, I escorted Ariel back to our cabin. We both had a few drinks but we were by no means tipsy or out of control. Upon entering the room, we found a towel buddy on our beds. The stateroom attendants had taken the towels and made them into different animals. Tonight, we had a dog accessorized with Ariel's sunglasses. The beds were turned down for the evening and we also received a Cruise Compass, the daily newsletter for the next day describing tips for the day, including specials going on throughout the ship, activities, upcoming shows, drink deals, and other interesting tidbits.

"Wow, this is so great!" Ariel said happily. "This is the best trip ever!"

"It was only the first day," I laughed.

"I hope the rest will be just as good," she smiled as she sat on the edge of her bed and took off her shoes.

"How come you never went anywhere before?" I asked.

"There was nobody to take me," she replied, rubbing her tired and now bare feet.

"Didn't your family go on vacations?" I wondered, as I took a seat on my bed.

"No," she admitted. "We were a stay-at-home family."

"Oh," I said.

"Where did your family go?" She asked.

"SummerBeach. Cape Cod. LakeAshlant."

"I was lucky if I made it to SunRiseLake for a half a day," she sighed.

"Did you parents work a lot?" I guessed.

She glanced at me but didn't answer my question. "I'd better get ready for sleep," she said instead.

"Okay," I agreed readily. "It is getting late."

Ariel went to her luggage stacked in the corner and grabbed some clothes and other necessities before heading into the tiny bathroom to change while I sat patiently on my bed waiting. It had been a fast and furious day full of activity and fun but now that it was over here I was in the cabin with Ariel and suddenly everything had grounded to a stop. We had been to busy and on the go to worry about this sort of situation but now here we were sharing a small cabin together and I was definitely starting to feel a little weird. Was this supposed to be a sleep over!?

Ariel came out of the head wearing nothing but a long white tee shirt and she looked pretty good! She smiled as she slipped under the covers of her bed.

"It's all yours," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom.

"Thanks," I replied, grabbing my stuff and going into the bathroom.

It had been a great first day. After expressing her initial shyness and apprehension, Ariel had lightened up and it was non-stop action and fun. Now that it was over, I realized that I was exhausted. I used the facilities and took a quick shower before emerging from the bathroom in a pair of jogging shorts and a tank top.

"That was quick," Ariel said with surprise, glancing up at me from her bed where she was reading The Compass.

"Navy shower," I grinned.

"Huh?"

"In the Navy, on the ship at sea, we had limited water," I explained as I made my way to my bed. "You'd get in, turn on the water, lather up, turn the water off, soap up and off, and then turn the water back on to rinse off. In and out in a minute or two."

"Oh, I love nice long hot showers that go on forever," Ariel told me with a smile.

Naturally, the image of a naked Ariel standing under a shower head soaping up her lovely body flashed through my mind but I tried not to think about that!

"Well, good night," I said pleasantly. "I'm really tired."

"It really was a great day though, wasn't it?" She asked happily.

"It was a great day," I concurred.

Ariel put the newsletter down on the small table between us and turned out the light, dousing us into darkness.

"Good night, Gil," she said quietly.

"Good night, Ariel," I replied.

I could hear her breathing in the dark and it wasn't a bad way to fall asleep.

###

There was light in the room when I opened my eyes in the morning and I realized that Ariel had opened the drapes to let the morning sun into the room. When my eyes focused, I saw Ariel lying on her side in her bed facing me with her arm propped up by the elbow holding up her head and she was staring at me which gave me a bit of a start.

"Good morning," she said with a happy smile.

"What time is it?" I wondered, wiping the sleep from my eyes.

"After nine," she reported.

"Wow, I slept in!" I said with surprise.

"Time doesn't seem to exist here," Ariel replied.

"No, it doesn't," I agreed, smiling at her.

"This is the farthest I've ever been from Hillsboro in my entire life," She marveled. "It's like being in a totally different world!"

"Yeah, I remember how it felt flying off for boot camp," I recalled. "I never knew the world could be so big."

"But after all your Navy adventures you still came back," she noted.

I shrugged my shoulders. "Hillsboro is home."

"Yeah, I guess," she said, pulling the sheets back from her bed and lifting her legs out of the bed, offering me a glimpse of her undies under her long shirt. "Can I have the bathroom first?"

"Of course," I replied.

"Thanks," she said, standing and stretching and yawning. Her shirt rode up her legs and I saw how slender and pretty her thighs were.

Ariel went to her luggage piled on the floor (deck?) in the corner of the room, grabbed some stuff and disappeared into the head. I sighed as I fell back on my pillow. I wasn't used to sharing a space with a woman I wasn't intimately involved with and this felt a little bit like torture.

If I was still with Teri (my last relationship) and she had come on the cruise with me, we would have slept naked in the same bed and had sex in the shower by now. She'd be sitting naked on the commode while I brushed my teeth to save time and there wouldn't be any of this polite respectability going on. But Ariel wasn't my girlfriend and I needed to respect her boundaries and privacy even though we were sharing the same room and bathroom.

Ariel emerged from the bathroom after a fair amount of time, looking great in a pretty patterned sun dress.

"It's all yours," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom almost exactly as she had the night before.

"Thanks," I said, grabbing my shaving kit and heading for the head with a change of clothes.

Fifteen minutes later we were having brunch in the casual dining area of the Windjammer Café. We found a table by the windows and ate our meal.

"Are you glad you came back to Hillsboro?" Ariel asked as we ate.

"The Navy was an adventure but I couldn't see myself as a lifer," I replied. "Six years was enough. My Uncle is pretty high up in the printing company and I knew I could get a job there pretty easily. I brought discipline and a strong work ethic to the job because of my Navy training and I advanced pretty quickly."

"Everybody likes you there," Ariel informed me.

"They like you too," I replied with a smile.

"I'm a nobody," she replied, waving my comment off with her hand. "Anybody can do my job."

I was surprised by her self-assessment. "Maybe so," I agreed. "But not the way you do it."

She glanced out the window and watched the ocean for a few moments. "Thanks for bring me, Gil," she said softly. "This is the nicest thing anybody's ever done for me."

"Oh, I'm sure you've had plenty of boyfriends who have done nice things for you," I said.

"My last boyfriend slept with my best friend," Ariel replied, throwing me a look as her eyes watered up. "Of course, she's not my best friend anymore."

"I'm sorry," I sighed, surprised by the revelation. "That guy was clearly a fool."

She put her hands up to her cheeks with her elbows on the table, studying me. "How come you're not with somebody?"

"I am," I said with a smile, lifting my orange juice glass up to offer her a toast.

When we finished the meal, we went and found some more Bingo (we won a hundred bucks on the third game!). Now that we were getting used to some of the people, seeing familiar faces, including Carl and Carrie from Newport who had eaten with us the previous night.

"Man, isn't cruise sex the best?" Carl wanted to know, causing Carrie to blush with embarrassment.

"Carl!" She said with a red face.

"Ah, come on," Carl replied easily. "We're on vacation!

Ariel said it would be fun to hang out at the pool for a while so we went back to the cabin and Ariel came out of the bathroom wearing a stunning yellow bikini that revealed parts of her body that I had never seen before. I had been working with her for nearly five years and I was used to see her in attractive professional outfits, nothing this revealing.

She laughed when she saw the look on my face. "I'll take that as a compliment," she said.

"You should," I replied sheepishly.

I went into the bathroom and changed into a pair of Bermuda (ironically) swimming trunks and we made our way back to the pool where I found myself sipping on a cocktail in a hot tub on the top deck with Ariel sitting across from in the same tub drinking a Manhattan Iced Tea. The ship was sailing on the Atlantic and from my vantage point all I could see was blue sky and blue water in every direction. I hadn't been to sea since leaving the Navy nearly eight years earlier but my time on the USS Harry S. Truman was never as glorious as this moment!

Ariel had a contented smile on her face as the romance of sea air wafted through her hair. I loved seeing her so happy and relaxed. She was always "on" at work – wanting to impress, wanting to help, wanting to do her job right, wanting to impress her co-workers and bosses. This was the most relaxed and laid back I had ever seen her and this was also the most of her I had ever seen as her bikini top revealed her fair sized breasts in a most enlightening way.

"Did you have a girl in every port when you were in the Navy?" Ariel asked me was we relaxed in the tub.

"Na," I assured her. "I did my fair share of partying but I wasn't one of those guys."

"What was your job?"

"Draftsman."

"Makes you a natural for the printing company," Ariel said.

"Do you like it there?" I asked.

"I'm grateful for the job and the opportunity," she replied. She peered at me. "What were your parents like?"

The question surprised me.

"They were okay," I said with a shrug.

"So, you had a pretty normal upbringing?"

"Sure," I said. "The old man is a postal worker and my mother works part time as a librarian at GreenCollege."

"Where did you live?"

"Over on Madison," I said.

"Oh, those are nice houses," Ariel said. "Brothers and sisters?"

"One each," I said. "It was all pretty standard stuff. Little League. Dance recitals. Sunday dinners. Holiday gatherings. My father liked to fish. My mother liked baking. My sister was smart. My brother was a trouble maker. We had a dog."

"Sounds nice," she smiled.

"Why, what about your family?" I asked.

"I'm turning into a prune," Ariel said. "Aren't you roasting in here?"

She stood and climbed out of the pool, the water dripping off her body. She pulled down the bottom of her bikini which had partially crawled up her ass crack.

"Lets cool of in the pool," I suggested.

"Sure," she agreed.

We walked to the pool and made our way into the water to cool off. I wondered why Ariel kept avoiding talking about herself or her family. After taking a relaxing and refreshing dip in the cooler pool, we returned to the cabin for a shower and change.

"It's all yours," Ariel said when she came out of the bathroom, wearing the same dress she had earlier in the day while gesturing toward the bathroom almost exactly as she had that morning.

"Thanks," I said, heading for the head with a change of clothes.

Ariel was sitting on the bed when I came out of the bathroom staring at the television which wasn't even on.

"You okay?" I asked

"I'm really having a great time, Gil," she said with sincerity.

"You look kind of sad," I observed.

"Not about this," she assured me.

"About what then?" I asked.

"Let's go enjoy ourselves," she said, standing and putting on a forced smile. "We're on cruise!"

I followed her out the door without arguing.

The rest of the afternoon was spent playing various card games, shuffleboard (no, really!) and drinking tasty pina coladas. We dined with Carl and Cassie and the older couple from Portland (Mary and Geno). By now, those two couples had accepted us as part of the group, assuming we were having great cruise sex at night too. It was obvious that they liked Ariel and she made it look easily fitting right in.

That evening's entertainment was a mix of cabaret, music and comedy along with a funny comedian telling off colored jokes. We bumped into Carl and Cassie again and accompanied them to the disco in the Marco Polo lounge for a wiggle on the dance floor. I was amazed at how great and sensual a dancer Ariel was and I could have danced with her all night.

It was well after midnight when we got back to the cabin. This time we found the towel buddies left on our beds by the stateroom attendants were giraffes. The beds were turned down for the evening and the newest Cruise Compass daily newsletter for the next day was also waiting for us.

"Wow, I can't believe how great this is!" Ariel said happily. "This really is the best trip ever!"

"I can't argue with you there," I grinned.

Ariel went into the head to change while I sat patiently on my bed waiting. It had been another exciting day full of activity and here I was again in the cabin with Ariel sharing the tight small space. She came out of the head wearing another long tee shirt (this one yellow). She smiled as she slipped under the covers of her bed.

"It's all yours," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom once again.

"Thanks," I replied, grabbing my stuff and going into the head.

I used the facilities and took a quick shower before emerging from the bathroom in a pair of jogging shorts and a tee shirt.

"That was quick Navy shower again," She said, glancing up at me from her bed where she was reading The Compass. "You could enjoy it more, you know."

"I know," I admitted. "I guess I can't help myself."

"Do you take showers like that at home?" She wondered.

"No," I laughed. "I guess it's just being at sea again! Once a Sailor always a Sailor!"

I made my way to my bed and climbed under the covers.

"Well, good night," I said pleasantly. "I'm really tired again."

"It really was a great day though, wasn't it?" She asked happily.

"It was a great day," I agreed.

Ariel put the newsletter down on the small table between us and turned out the light, dousing us into darkness.

"Good night, Gil," she said softly.

"Good night, Ariel," I replied, realizing we had practically the same exchange the night before. Had we become a couple already?

I could hear her breathing in the dark and once again it wasn't a bad way to fall asleep.

###

There was light in the room when I opened my eyes in the morning as Ariel had once again opened the drapes to let the morning sun in. When my eyes focused in, I saw Ariel lying in bed on her side facing me with her arm propped up by the elbow holding up her head and staring at me with a patient smile.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," I said, surprised to see her eyes on me for the second morning in a row.

"Sorry," she said, chewing on her lip. "I didn't want to wake you."

"Well, good morning," I said. "What time is it?"

"After nine," she reported.

"Wow, I slept in again!?" I said with surprise.

"Time still doesn't seem to exist here," Ariel noted again.

"No, it doesn't," I agreed, smiling.

"Today is Bermuda Day!" She reminded me happily.

"Yes it is!" I realized with excitement.

"Can I have the bathroom first?" She asked.

"Of course," I answered.

"Thanks," she said, standing and stretching and yawning once again and I tried not to stare at her shapely thighs.

Ariel emerged from the bathroom after a while looking great in Khaki shorts and a flowered blouse.

"It's all yours," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom as had become the routine.

"Thanks," I said, grabbing my shaving kit and heading for the head with a change of clothes.

When I came out of the bathroom ready to go, I found Ariel once again sitting on her bed staring at the wall.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I asked gently, getting the sense that something was bothering her.

"No, let's go see Bermuda," she said, springing from the bed and forcing a smile on her face.

I followed her out the door and we realized that the ship had already docked in Bermuda by the time we got out on deck. We had to punch out our SeaPass cards, walk through the gangway, and into the terminal where we showed our photo ID and SeaPass before heading out on to the town.

We enjoyed the Dockyard, a 24-acre preserve with a rum cake factory, craft and art glass shops, a working boatyard, a dolphin park, a beach, and the Bermuda Maritime Museum presenting everything we needed to know about storied Bermuda.

I had been to plenty of foreign countries in the Navy and I was used to new cultures and different settings but this was Ariel's first time anywhere and she marveled at all the sights, attractions, and differences. There was plenty of dining options. The Bone Fish Bar & Grill served local favorites such as traditional fish chowder, Portuguese bean soup and a chorizo sausage wrap. The Frog & Onion Pub offered great pub fare like fish and chips, Cornish pasties, shepherd's pie and Bermuda-style curry mussel pie along with samplers of Bermuda drafts brewed right there.
Bermuda is only twenty square miles in size, known for its pink sandy beaches, turquoise sea and a laid-back sensibility. It was easy for us to get around thanks to excellent bus and ferry services but we noticed how high prices were everywhere.
Ariel and I took a "Famous Homes & Hideaways" shore excursion on a sightseeing boat with "Captain Ronnie" and his color commentary while maneuvering through tiny inlets and passageways giving us a close look at some of Bermuda's priciest real estate.

We also got an inside look at Bermuda, including backyards, a cricket field, cottages, beaches and panoramic seascapes by bicycling on the Bermuda Railway Trail which runs most of the length of the 21-mile island. One noteworthy stop was a climb up to FortScaur which was part of a ring of fortifications built in the 19th century with a commanding view of the Great Sound.
After a late dinner, we headed for the ship exhausted but well satisfied from a great day of touring enjoyment.
"Wow, I can't believe how great this is!" Ariel said happily as we walked to the ship. "I'm having the best vacation ever!"

"I'm glad," I grinned, although I was still worried about her apparent mood swings.

Once we were back in the cabin, Ariel went into the head to change while I sat patiently on my bed waiting. Our towels were in the shape of bears tonight. Ariel came out of the head wearing another long tee shirt (this one pink). She smiled as she slipped under the covers of her bed.

"It's all yours," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom once again.

"Thanks," I replied, grabbing my stuff and going into the head.

I used the facilities and took a quick shower before emerging from the bathroom in a pair of jogging shorts and a Boston Red Sox shirt.

"Another quick Navy shower!" Ariel laughed, glancing up at me from her bed where she was reading The Compass.

I shrugged while making my way to my bed and climbing under the covers.

"Well, good night," I said pleasantly.

"It really was a great day though, wasn't it?" She asked happily.

"It was a great day," I agreed.

Ariel put the newsletter on the small table between us and turned out the light, dousing us into darkness.

"Good night, Gil," she said softly.

"Good night, Ariel," I replied with contentment.

I could hear her breathing in the dark and once again it wasn't a bad way to fall asleep.

###

There was light in the room when I opened my eyes in the morning as Ariel had once again opened the drapes to let the morning sun in. When my eyes focused in, I saw Ariel lying in bed on her side facing me with her arm propped up by the elbow holding up her head and staring at me with a patient smile.

"I thought I asked you not to do that!?" I frowned.

"Sorry," she giggled. "It's fun watching you sleep!"

"What time is it?"

"After nine," she reported.

"Wow, I slept in again!?"

"Time stops here," Ariel noted one more time.

"Apparently," I agreed.

"I wish it wouldn't start again," she sighed.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Can I have the bathroom first?" She wanted to know.

"Of course," I answered.

"Thanks," she said, standing and stretching and yawning once again and I tried not to stare at her shapely thighs.

Ariel emerged from the bathroom after a while looking great in a yellow dress.

"It's all yours," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom.

"Thanks," I said, grabbing my shaving kit and heading for the head with a change of clothes.

Ariel was sitting on her bed waiting for me when I came out of the bathroom, once again staring at the wall deep in thought.

"Everything okay?" I asked with concern.

"I'm having a great time, Gil," she assured me with a smile as she stood. "This has been such a wonderful experience for me."

"How come you've never been anywhere before?" I asked.

"I've been places," she said defensively.

"Besides the BostonMuseum of Science?" I asked.

"Let's go see some more of Bermuda," she insisted, starting for the door.

I didn't argue as I followed her out of the cabin. I wanted to keep the peace and make sure she had the best time possible no matter what it was that was bugging her. We left the ship for a second day of adventure and fun in Bermuda, checking out the shops on Front Street, viewing the Bermuda Parliament building, and observing the cultural differences around us. By now, we were getting used to Bermudians driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, all the Mopeds and motor scooters and bicycles everywhere, and the horse and carriage rides (which one we took!).

The shops were pretty much standard for any tourist town: souvenir t-shirt shops, jewelry stores, and a bookstore. We toured the botanical gardens and some historic homes. Then it was off to the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute before taking a taxi to TobaccoBay, one of Bermuda's best beaches with crystal clear water and the perfect place to go snorkeling, swimming, or dip our feet and look at some of the small fish swimming by. We did all of that, having brought our suits with us in a small bag I had lugged around all day!

After taking a dip, we sat on beach towels on the white sand enjoying the view. I figured now was a good time as any to talk with Ariel about what might be bothering her.

"Are you having a good time?" I asked gently.

"The best," she said happily.

"And everything's okay?" I tested.

"Sure, of course, this is great," she smiled.

"Sometimes I get the feeling you're not all that happy," I boldly remarked.

Ariel glanced out at the sparkling ocean water. "I try my best," she said softly.

"I'm having a great time with you, Ariel," I let her know. "You can trust me."

She glanced at me and smiled. "I do," she said.

"Good," I said with appreciation. "You can talk to me too."

"What if you don't like what I have to say?" She worried.

"Is it about me?" I semi-joked.

"No, of course not," she said, trying not to laugh herself.

"Then it won't matter," I replied.

She chewed on her lip for a moment. "My mother died in child birth having me," she revealed with a sigh. "My father couldn't handle any of it so he took off. My maternal grandparents raised me."

"Oh," I said with surprise.

"I'm sort of an orphan," she remarked.

"That's tough, but at least you had your grandparents." I reached out and took her hand in mine, squeezing it for reassurance.

"They provided me a roof over my head and food on the table," she agreed. "But I don't think they ever really loved me," she sighed.

"Oh, Ariel," I said sadly. "They must have. You were their daughter's daughter."

"They didn't like my father and my mother knew she was putting herself and me at risk getting pregnant," Ariel explained. "I don't think my grandparents ever forgave her for dying on them and I think every time they looked at me they were reminded of that."

"They still raised you," I offered gently.

"They did," she agreed. "And I loved them for that."

"Are they still alive?" I wondered.

"My grandmother died from cancer about five years ago," she said. "That's why I was doing the raffle. My grandfather is in the nursing home, Alzheimered out. That's their house you picked me up at. I'm the only one left to visit my grandfather. I felt guilty leaving him for a week."

"You shouldn't," I said. "You deserve a break. You deserve some happiness."

"That's what Suzanne said at work," Ariel sighed. "She said my grandfather wouldn't even realize that I was gone anyway."

"That's probably true," I agreed.

"You don't think I'm a creep granddaughter for going on a cruise when my grandfather is sick?"

"Of course not," I said strongly.

"And you don't think I'm any less because of my Cinderella upbringing?" She worried.

"Not at all," I said with determination. "I think you're a great person and I'm having the time of my life with you."

She glanced at me and smiled. "Thanks," she said warmly. "That makes me feel a little less stressed."

We took another dip and went for a walk along the beach, me taking her hand in mine as we went. We didn't say much but I had to admit that I was surprised that she was so worried about what I might think about her, as if somehow she wasn't worthy to be with me or on the cruise because of her upbringing and her lowly job position at work. All I saw was an attractive, interesting and fun woman and when I thought about it I realized I was having more fun with her than any other woman I had been with before.

We changed in the public bathrooms and after another dinner in town, we returned to the ship exhausted but delighted.

"Wow, today was even better than yesterday!" Ariel said happily as we entered our cabin. "This really is the best trip ever!"

"It's been pretty neat," I agreed.

Ariel went into the head to change while I sat patiently on my bed waiting. It had been another exciting day full of activity and here we were again together in the tight small space. I guess we were getting used to it by now. Ariel came out of the head wearing another long tee shirt (this one green). She smiled as she slipped under the covers of her bed.

"It's all yours," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom once again.

"Thanks," I replied, grabbing my stuff and going into the head.

I used the facilities and took a quick shower before emerging from the bathroom in a pair of boxers and a new tee shirt I had bought on the Island earlier.

"How was your Navy Shower?" Ariel teased, glancing up at me from her bed where she was reading The Compass.

"Fine," I grinned as I made my way to my bed and climbed under the covers.

"Well, good night," I said pleasantly.

"I really had fun today," She informed me happily.

"Me too," I replied. "And I'm glad we talked too," I felt compelled to add.

Ariel put the newsletter on the small table between us and turned out the light, dousing us into darkness.

"Good night, Gil," she said softly.

"Good night, Ariel," I replied.

I could hear her breathing in the dark and once again it wasn't a bad way to fall asleep.

###
The room was still dark when I felt somebody shaking me.

"Gil! Gil! Wake up!"

I opened my eyes and saw the shadow of Ariel standing over me. I was confused with the change in routine.

"Don't tell me, I didn't sleep in again, it's not after nine, and you're not watching me sleep," I said.

"Pretty much," she smirked. "Let's go watch the sunrise!" She said.

"Really?"

"Sure!" She laughed. "How many times do we get to see it at sea?"

"You're right," I said, remembering my Navy days at sea and knowing there was nothing more beautiful than a sunrise on the ocean.

Ariel was already dressed in long pants and a sweatshirt and she patiently waited while I put on some clothes. We left the cabin and went to the nearest deck. The ship had left the port during the night and we were headed back for Boston. We could see that the eastern sky was beginning to brighten as dawn started to break.

"Have you ever wondered what it would be like once you jumped?" Ariel asked as she stared at the water way below us.

"No," I replied, caught off guard by her strange question. "But plenty of guys have got blown off flight decks."

"Do you wonder if you would sink to the bottom, cold, lonely, crushed, and forgotten?" She asked.

"No," I said, peering at her. "Is that how you feel?"

"Sometimes," she sighed. "I've always wondered if I would sink or be caught."

"Caught by whom?" I asked.

"Oh, never mind," she said, snapping out of it and looking at me with a smile. "The sun is coming up."

"I remember the first time I watched the sunrise at sea," I told her as I wrapped by arm around her waist and pulled her close. "It was something I'd never seen before. It was so beautiful."

I wanted to add 'just like you' but I didn't.

Ariel rested her head on my shoulder and we watched the orange sun emerge from the blue ocean. My heart was pounding as I felt her light brown hair blow against my face. It was just long enough to be put in a short ponytail and a few strands hung down on the left side of her face. She glanced at me when she sensed I was studying her and her deep brown eyes were full of wonderment. I smiled and took her hand in mine and she wrapped her arm around my waist. I turned her so her back was to my chest and we watched the sun rise.

It was the best moment of the entire cruise!

We stood like that for a long time, until the sun had risen from the ocean and then we slowly made our way back to the cabin having barely said a word.
"Can I have the bathroom first?" Ariel asked when we stepped into the room.

"Of course," I answered.

"Thanks," she said before disappearing into the head.

She emerged from the bathroom after a while looking great in slacks and a pretty blouse.

"It's all yours," she said, gesturing toward the bathroom.

"Thanks," I said, grabbing my shaving kit and heading for the head with a change of clothes.

When I was done with my Navy shower, Ariel and I left the cabin once again. There were plenty of activities to keep us busy during the trip. After brunch in the Windjammer Cafe, we took another venture to the Bingo tables. This time, I was one of the winners on a railroad track game where we had to have all our numbers down the "I" and "O" columns. I gave Ariel half of the $150 bucks I won.

"You sure have been a good winner lately," Ariel laughed.

I wanted to tell her that I was a winner because I was with her but I didn't.

We played cards with Carl and Carrie from Newport and then lounged around the pool in the afternoon. After showering and changing in the cabin, we went to dinner, meeting up with Mary and Geno from Portland.

Then there was "Karaoke Superstar" which was about as hysterically bad as anyone could imagine. I was impressed when Ariel went up and sang "Like A Virgin" but I refused to budge when she wanted me to sing "I've Got You Babe" with her!

It was nearly midnight when we returned to the cabin.

"Okay if I use the bathroom first?" Ariel asked.

"Please," I insisted.

She returned a while later wearing the white robe the ship had provided. "It's all yours," she informed me.

"Great," I replied, taking my shaving kit into the bathroom with me.

I realized I was feeling kind of sad as I took my Navy shower. This was our last night on the ship and it was a great adventure and a great time. Ariel was a wonderful person and I had enjoyed spending the cruise with her. I wondered what it would be like when we got back to Hillsboro. Would we slip back into our old routines, her down in payroll and me at my manager's desk? Would this week have been a week of pretend?

I stepped out of the stall and dried off, this time putting on the second white robe the ship had provided

When I stepped out of the bathroom, I was shocked to see Ariel on my bed. She was lying on her stomach reading the Compass…nude!

She turned her head and looked at me. "I didn't think that Navy shower was ever going to end!"

I couldn't help but laugh as I stood there trying not to gawk at her lovely buns. She rolled onto her side, revealing her breasts and bush to me.

"It's all yours," she said.

"Ariel?" I asked with uncertainty.

"I knew you were a nice guy all along, Gil," she said. "You were the perfect gentleman this whole time. Sharing a cabin with me, respecting my privacy, treating me with kindness, being so nice."

"I didn't want to take advantage of you," I admitted, staring at her loveliness.

"And I appreciate that," she said with sincerity, rolling onto her back now and turning her head to look at me. "You have proven yourself honorable and trustworthy."

"That's a good thing, right?" I smirked.

"It is," she clarified. "But we're on a cruise, Gil! Romance everywhere you look. People have been getting laid every night all week! That's why there's so many happy people! This is the making love boat!"

I laughed in agreement.

"Would you make love to me?" She asked suddenly and directly.

"Well," I said, opening my robe to reveal that I was naked underneath. "I was hoping you would ask!"

She giggled with delight as I let the robe fall off my shoulders and I walked naked to the bed. I sat on the bed next to her and I put my hand on her stomach while my other hand brushed against her face. I saw her eyes start to welt up.
"What's the matter?" I whispered, looking into her sparkling eyes.
"I-I-I just-I've just been so lonely," she stammered.
"You don't have to be now," I assured her.
"But, you are so perfect, and me, well, I'm ...I'm just..." Her voice trailed off and the tears began to spill from her eyes.

"You're so wonderful," I told her. "And believe me I'm hardly perfect."
I pushed her hair away from her face and put it behind her ear. Then I leaned in and gave her a kiss.

"I've wanted you for so long," she confessed.

I sucked her earlobe into my mouth before climbing onto the bed and holding her in my arms. "I didn't know," I said.
"Make love to me," she pleaded. "I'm all yours."

Ariel tilted her head to the side, exposing her neck as her arms went around my back. I kissed down her neck, nipping here and there and she moaned, her chest arching into mine in pleasure. She grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me into a deep kiss, our tongues twisting together. Breaking the kiss while my erection rubbed against her mound, I brought my mouth to her nipple. Arching in pleasure, she pushed her womanhood up against my erection and moaned.

"Oh Gil...please..." she gasped between moans.

I reached up, still sucking her nipple, and pinched her other nipple. Ariel screamed out in pleasure, her nails running roughly against my back.

"I've never made love at sea before," I whispered into her ear.

"Now's your chance," she told me. "I'm all yours."

When it was all over, I was laying next to Ariel naked on the bed with her curled up against my chest ready to drift off to sleep.

"Do you remember what I said this morning when we were watching the sun rise?" she asked.

"About wondering what it would be like if you jumped?"

"I don't wonder anymore," she told me. "Not after looking at the most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen, knowing that you would catch me in your arms and hold me tight so I wouldn't be lonely, scared, or alone anymore."

"I'm glad," I whispered, kissing her on the cheek.

"Good night, Gil," she said quietly.

"Good night, Ariel," I replied.

I could hear her breathing in the dark next to me and it wasn't a bad way to fall asleep.

###

There was light in the room when Ariel opened her eyes in the morning and she saw that I was lying in bed next to her with my arm propped up by the elbow holding up my head as I stared at her.

"Good morning," I said happily.

"Good morning," she said with amusement. "What time is it?"

"Who cares!?" I grinned.

"Not me!" she reported.

"Do you want the bathroom first?"

"Okay."

"Have you ever had a Navy shower before?" I asked.

"Show me," she said, sliding out from under the sheets and heading for the head bare assed with me right behind her.

When we were done with our morning making love boat navy shower fun, we dressed warmer than usual knowing we were returning to New England in October and we sadly packed knowing that our week of escape, discovery, and relaxation was coming to an end.

When our bags were packed, we placed the luggage in the hall as previously directed tagged with the colored tag we were given for departure order. We couldn't leave the ship until our colored tag was called.

We had brunch at the Windjammer Café where we bumped into Carl and Carrie from Newport one last time.

"You look like you got laid last night for sure," Carl noted quietly as we stood in the brunch line. Carrie and Ariel were far enough away not to hear.

"I did," I admitted proudly.

I wanted to spend the brunch quietly with Ariel so we got our own table.

"So, your grandparents never took you anywhere?" I asked.

"They were fuddey-duddies," Ariel said. "My grandmother didn't even drive. My grandfather wasn't all that social or interesting in doing anything. They were old when I was born and older as I grew up. They were set in their ways and I had to adapt to them instead of them adapting to me."

"What about your friends and their families?" I asked. "Couldn't you take trips with them?"

"I didn't have that many friends, Gil," she sighed. "My grandparents were overprotective and hard line. They made me go to catholic school and my grandmother went to Mass everyday, usually dragging me with her. I spent a lot of time keeping them company."

"You deserved better," I let her know.

"Well, maybe it's never too late," she said hopefully.

When we were done with our brunch, we went out on one of the decks to watch the harbor of Boston and the coast of Massachusetts come closer. We were wearing sweaters but I still hugged Ariel close for warmth. Once the ship was in the harbor and we could see the dock ahead, we returned to our cabin room and waited for our color to be called, sitting together knowing our wonderful Bermuda Cruise was coming to an end.

"Time is going to start now, isn't it?" She asked with a sigh.

"That doesn't have to be a bad thing, Ariel," I told her.

"But the cruise is over," she practically sobbed. "Now it's back to the real world."

"I'd like to think this was the real world," I replied, taking her hand in mine.

"It was a cruise, Gil," she sighed. "Everybody know what happens on a cruise stays on a cruise."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'm just the girl in payroll," she answered.

"Not to me," I said knowingly.

"What, you going to go back and tell everybody we're together or something?" she asked sarcastically.

"That's exactly what I'm going to do," I replied.

"Life doesn't work that way, Gil," she warned me. "I'm still the same insecure shy girl you boarded the boat with."

"Are you?" I challenged, giving her a long look. "You weren't shy in the hot tub. You weren't shy on the dance floor. You weren't shy…last night, or this morning."

"I'm shy now," she whispered, her eyes getting wet.

"You don't have to be," I said quietly.

She looked at me with disbelief. "Why would you want to be with somebody like me?"

"You're the nicest girl I've ever been with," I replied.

She burst into tears and fell into me.

Tag colors were called out every fifteen minutes or so. When we heard our color called, we smiled sadly and left the cabin one final time, reporting to the lounge area for departure. Once we punched out on our SeaPass cards, we exited down the gangway and into the terminal where our luggage was waiting based on the colored tags. Going through customs was easy as all the customs officials did was take our customs declaration form and send us on our way.

I left Ariel with the luggage and took the shuttle to the parking garage, returning to the terminal with the car where I loaded up the luggage and Ariel joined me in the car.

"Well," she said. "I guess that's it for our big vacation."

"Have you ever been to Cape Cod?" I asked her, raising my eyebrows.

She glanced at me and smiled. "No, I haven't."

"Let's go then," I said, putting the car in gear and heading for Route 3 South to Cape Cod.

"Right now?" Ariel asked with surprise.

"I'm all yours," I let her know.